Reading, Massachusetts

Vintage Reading, Massachusetts.

Vintage Reading, Massachusetts.


Reading, Massachusetts, pronounced like “red-ing”, is located in Middlesex County about 16 miles north of central Boston.

In the 1630s, the original settlers of Massachusetts arrived establishing the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Nine years later, in 1639, some citizens of Lynn petitioned the government of the colony for a “place for an inland plantation”. They were initially granted six square miles, followed by an additional four. The first settlement in this grant was called “Lynn Village” and was located on the south shore of Lake Quannapowitt. On June 10, 1644, the settlement was incorporated by the House of Deputies as the Town of Reading, taking its name from Reading, England.

The first church was organized soon after the settlement, and the first parish, later known as South Reading, became Wakefield in 1868. A special grant in 1651 added land north of the Ipswich River to the Town of Reading. This area would later become the separate Town of North Reading in 1853. John Parker was one of the founders of Reading and served as a deacon of the 12th Congregational Church (now the First Parish Congregational Church), which he also was instrumental in establishing. He would also serve as a selectman, constable, and a judicial commissioner.

Witch Trial

Witch Trial

When the witch hunts of the area began in 1692, there were a number of people accused in Reading including several members of the Dustin family. The first to be arrested was the widow, Lydia Dustin. Though she was never tried and was eventually found to be not guilty, she died in prison before she could be released. Later, her daughters, Sarah Duston and Mary Colson were also arrested. Though a warrant was issued for her granddaughter, Elizabeth Colson, Constable John Parker was unable to find her, reporting to the court that she had escaped and was likely in Boston preparing to leave the country. Also arrested were Mary Harrington Taylor, Jane Lilly, and Sarah Davis Rice. No one from Reading was found guilty of witchcraft.

In 1694, Abraham Bryant, a farmer and blacksmith, built the Parker Tavern in Reading. Soon, Bryant, along with Ephraim Parker operated a tavern on the premises. Bryant’s heirs continued to own the saltbox building until the 1730s, after which, it changed hands a number of times before it was acquired by Reading Antiquarian Society in 1923. The oldest structure in Reading today, it now serves as a museum.

The old Parker Tavern is the oldest building in Reading, Massachusetts courtesy Wikipedia.

The old Parker Tavern is the oldest building in Reading, Massachusetts courtesy Wikipedia.

Years later, many men of Reading played an active role in the American Revolution.

In 1806, the Andover-Medford Turnpike began to be built which provided Reading citizens with a better means to travel to the Boston area. This road is now known as Massachusetts Route 28. Afterward, a number of factories were established in the city including Sylvester Harnden’s furniture factory, Daniel Pratt’s clock factory, and Samuel Pierce’s organ pipe factory.  In 1845, the Boston and Maine Railroad came to Reading, improving access to Boston and the southern markets.

More manufacturing facilities were built in the next years including 13 establishments that manufactured chairs and cabinets, and businesses making shoes and neckties.

During the Civil War, 411 men fought for the Union, of which 15 died in action and 33 died of wounds and sickness. Today, a memorial to these men stands in the Laurel Hill Cemetery. In the years following, the southern markets for many of the products made in Reading declined and several of its factories closed.

By the start of the 1900s, Reading had grown to 4,969 people, many of whom commuted to Boston for work on the Boston and Maine Railroad and the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway.

More industrial expansion occurred in the next decades as well as military installations.

Town Hall in Reading, Massachusetts courtesy Wikipedia.

Town Hall in Reading, Massachusetts courtesy Wikipedia.

Today, though Reading is basically a suburb of Boston, it continues to have a small-town feel. It is called home to almost 25,000 people.

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated September 2020.

Also See:

Massachusetts – The Bay State

The Salem Witchcraft Hysteria (main article)

Timeline of the Salem Witchcraft Events

Witchcraft Towns